- Being codependent means you "emotionally and psychologically rely on another person" to a fault.
- Pretending to like the things that your partner does is a telltale sign of being codependent.
- Putting your partner's needs above your own — even when it makes you unhappy — is a red flag.
In a healthy relationship, you're there for your partner and your partner is there for you. You can depend on each other when the going gets rough, and you're able to compromise when disagreements arise.
However, if you're in a relationship where you feel like everything hinges on that one person, and compromise turns into sacrificing your own sense of self over and over, you might be in a codependent relationship.
Here's what it means to be codependent, as well as some warning signs of codependency in relationships.
What does it mean to be codependent?
"There are challenges in life in which we rely on our partners for support. However, the problem comes when we abandon our wants and needs in order to meet our partners' needs" Veasley says.
When you prioritize someone in such an extreme way, it may feel terrifying or even unfathomable to be without them — resulting in an extreme fear of abandonment.
Usually this fear of abandonment stems from a childhood marked by inconsistency or trauma says Dana McNeil, a psychologist who specializes in couples therapy and relationship issues at The Relationship Place.
An unideal childhood is also why many people in codependent relationships have an anxious attachment style, meaning they tend to exhibit behaviors like clinginess or a desire for constant reassurance. This makes it hard to have a healthy relationship and contributes to codependency.
Ultimately, a healthy relationship won't cause you to sacrifice things that are important to you just to please the other person, Veasley says. But a codependent relationship may have you doing just that.
Signs of codependency
Codependency shows up differently in different relationships, but there are some common behaviors and patterns to look out for.
Here are seven signs that you could be in a codependent relationship:
1. You feel uncomfortable being without your partner
You may feel intense discomfort being alone or without your partner and want to spend all your time with them. McNeil says you might even get mad or disappointed if your partner wants to spend some downtime alone instead of being with you, or if they want to have a night out with friends.
"If you can't imagine how you would fill your time or even dread being by yourself, this is a codependent behavior," McNeil says.
2. You avoid any disagreements or arguments
You may avoid disagreements at all costs and act like you agree when you don't, or, you might keep your feelings to yourself even when something is bothering you. The idea being that you don't want to distress or annoy your partner so they'll be happy and stick around, McNeil says.
But this type of behavior can only erode your sense of self-worth, which research has found may backfire and cause your partner to support you less.
3. You do things you don't want to do
You say "yes" when you want to say "no," because you want to make it seem like you're up for anything your partner wants.
But this stops you from living life in alignment with who you really are, just so you can manage your partner's opinion of you, McNeil says.
A 2018 review found this type of behavior is linked to having a poor sense of self — as a result, codependent people may feel like a chameleon, blending into any situation rather than being their own individual.
4. You put your partner's needs on a pedestal
In a healthy relationship, both partners' needs are viewed and addressed equally. But in a codependent one, you might neglect your own needs because you're too busy focusing on meeting –– or exceeding –– your partner's needs.
It's common for codependent people to treat their partner's needs as more important than their own, McNeil says.
This goes back to wanting to keep your partner happy so they won't leave you.
5. You neglect your own self-care
You may think you don't have time to do little things for yourself, such as going to the gym, getting a massage, or simply having some downtime to read in your backyard because there are things you could be doing for your partner, instead.
"On the surface, this seems like a noble thing to do. However, it's really a sneaky way to try to create a sense that you are indispensable to your partner because of all the things you do for them," McNeil says.
This can also result in you feeling guilty when you actually do take time for yourself, since in the back of your mind you're thinking about your partner, McNeil says.
6. You feel like you don't have any power to make decisions
In a codependent relationship, you may feel like your partner has all the decision-making power in the relationship when it comes to decisions big or small.
For example, McNeil says you think you have no say in when you will have children or buy your first home together, because the power lies with the partner.
Disagreeing might be terrifying for someone who is codependent, because they think that a disagreement will lead to abandonment.
7. You feel unappreciated and unseen
Even if you are constantly giving more than you're getting in the relationship, you might feel unappreciated or unseen.
A 2012 review that explored the role of gratitude in relationships showed that, in a healthy relationship, it's important to have some give-and-take. The researchers state:
"People who feel more appreciated by their romantic partners report being more appreciative of their partners. In turn, people who are more appreciative of their partners report being more responsive to their partners' needs."
If you don't feel like your partner shows you gratitude or is attentive to your needs, it could indicate you're being in a codependent relationship.
Not to mention, if the relationship ends, McNeil says a codependent person will likely assume it's because they weren't good enough for their partner, since their partner never expressed appreciation.
A codependent relationship is not healthy or sustainable. Continuing on with codependent behavior can result in you losing your sense of self and becoming increasingly unsatisfied with the relationship.
It's possible to make changes to improve a codependent relationship and your overall well-being.
"If you find yourself in a codependent relationship, the goal is to begin to prioritize yourself as opposed to your partner. Creating boundaries and prioritizing yourself allows you to rely on yourself instead of a partner or cater to them in hopes that they reciprocate the emotions," Veasley says.
If you have trouble doing this on your own, don't hesitate to reach out to a therapist or couples' therapist for help.